Whereas Apple offers just a single model of the Apple TV, Roku offers four varieties of its streaming-media box, from the bare-bones Roku LT to the flagship Roku 3.
Of all the options, the Roku 1 ($60) feels like the odd man out. It's essentially identical to the Roku LT ($50), adding just a single feature: 1080p video output. The difference between 720p and 1080p has always been hard to discern, especially on the smaller, secondary TVs where the Roku 1 and Roku LT make most sense. And even on larger screens, the difference can be tough to discern; flipping between a Roku 1 and a Roku LT, the LT was ever-so-slightly softer, but they both looked like good HD content. Techies may find some comfort in knowing they're getting "true 1080p," but most mainstream buyers can just get the Roku LT, save $10, and never notice the difference.
The other differences are even more minor. The Roku 1 sheds the Roku LT's purple shell, opting for the standard glossy black finish instead. (For some, the less garish finish may be worth the $10 difference alone.) And the Roku 1 is available at traditional retailers, while the LT is only sold at online at outlets like Amazon, and Roku's own online store.
Otherwise, the Roku 1 offers up the same streaming experience we love on the other boxes. More than 1,000 channels are supported, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, MLB.TV, Amazon Cloud Player, and Vudu. Roku's cross-platform search feature is also particularly handy, letting you enter the name of a movie or TV show and showing you want streaming services its available on.
The Roku 1 is a good value at $60, but it lacks the dirt-cheap appeal of the Roku LT or the killer features (such as the remote with a headphone jack) offered on the step up Roku 2 and Roku 3. Most buyers will be better off choosing one of Roku's other models, although if you can find the Roku 1 discounted to $50 (as its predecessor, the Roku HD, often was), there's no reason not to choose it over the Roku LT.
Roku boxes compared
For a deep dive on the full Roku experience, check out CNET's full review of the Roku 3. Below is a breakdown of Roku's full product line.
Roku LT ($50): 720p video, HDMI and analog video outputs, available only at online retailers
Roku 1 ($60): adds 1080p video
Roku 2 ($80): adds Wi-Fi Direct remote with headphone jack, dual-band Wi-Fi
Roku 3 ($100): adds dual-core processor, motion control remote, Ethernet jack, USB port, SD card slot; no analog video jacks